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Concessions

Concessions

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Concessions

Longueur:
343 pages
4 heures
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Jun 8, 2013
ISBN:
9781301226863
Format:
Livre

Description

Iris Dandridge, a lifelong resident of Hansa, Pennsylvania, is a chef, a restaurateur, a widow, and a loser. Ever since she was cheated years ago out of her share of Hansa's finest restaurant, by a volatile chef named Frieda, Iris has driven her own restaurant to the brink of bankruptcy. Now it's summer 2009, and the unthinkable has happened: her only employee, a smart-aleck college kid named Jay, just quit and went to work for the one person Iris can't stand—Frieda. As summer begins, Iris closes her restaurant and takes one last shot at her culinary career—she opens a food cart in downtown Hansa and decides to compete against Frieda for the Golden Plate, the town's annual vote for best chef, although Frieda's won for the past nine years straight. Ready for a showdown and armed with the best chimichurri sauce in western Pennsylvania, Iris fires up her grill and serves up hot summer cart food. But soon she discovers that it's far more than a competition against Frieda for bragging rights. It's war.

Éditeur:
Sortie:
Jun 8, 2013
ISBN:
9781301226863
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Bo Bigelow likes games of all varieties, whiskey enjoyed in a dark bar, and Jean- Pierre Melville movies. His most recent book, The Loop, is a graphic novel about a machine that can record and play back people's memories. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

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Concessions - Bo Bigelow

Kate

CHAPTER ONE

The mortifying thing happened to Iris on a Wednesday. It involved the college kid, and she never saw it coming.

It was early spring in the city of Hansa, PA, when the snow had finally melted for good, when the lowlands were beginning to have daily highs in the 40s, and the air came down from the Alleghenies, making it cool but not so cold anymore—not to Iris, anyway.

It happened during the disappointing lull that Iris felt each year in early April, the slow spot in her schedule that followed the holidays, New Year’s, and then Valentine’s Day, but preceded the traditionally profitable times of Father’s Day and the late-May graduations from high school and college.

In 2009, April was especially slow for Iris. There were empty tables every night in the restaurant, and the catering business was nonexistent, with no one calling in new orders. To her the office felt like a library, silent and stifling.

The embarrassing thing happened one April day just after breakfast, when Iris was at her desk in her office, working on the crossword puzzle. While not actively working on the puzzle, Iris had spent time that morning looking out the window and trying like crazy to figure out what to do that day with the college kid, James Kenton Pospishil, who liked to be called Jay. Without catering orders, there was no reason for him to be in the office.

Being a college kid, Jay was on to her, and knew that the business was drying up. He was less than sympathetic about this.

Forever afterward, she would remember that in the instant when the mortifying thing happened, she was stuck on one crossword clue, 36 across, which was the crux of the puzzle, the all-the-way-across key to solving the whole thing. The clue read, Alpion maneater, and she had not even the faintest notion of what the answer might be, or even its first letter.

At that moment, Jay, in his infinite smugness, slapped down the crossword in front of her, and she saw that he had completed it. She read his answer to 36 across, HANNIBALCANNIBAL, which he had written in careful and perfect capital letters. He had done the entire puzzle in ballpoint pen.

It made her feel ashamed, the way Jay lorded his crossword prowess over her. She could not see how he consistently knew answers he should have no business knowing. He had mastered time periods, whole decades even, that he had not even lived through. He knew, for example, who had been Secretary of Agriculture under Gerald Ford.

The answer to that one had been Earl Butz (who knew facts like that off the top of their heads, without resorting to Google?) Jay had been especially smug about that answer, as if it were the responsibility of every American to know the name Earl Butz.

Iris remembered Ford. She remembered his forehead, and the broad stripes on his ties. She was twenty-one years old when Nixon resigned in ‘74 and Ford became president. She remembered where she was when the news broke about Watergate.

She had allowed Jay to make her feel ashamed—about a lot of things, such as not having enough work for him to do in the office, not knowing the answer Earl Butz, and not being able to ever finish the crossword. But none of those were the mortifying thing that happened that Wednesday.

I quit, said Jay, at the exact second that his fully completed crossword puzzle hit Iris’s desk, and this—Jay quitting—was only half of the thing that embarrassed her.

The other half was what he said next.

Frieda hired me.

CHAPTER TWO

After Jay quit, he cleaned out his desk and left the office. He did not say anything further to Iris. There was no thank you or even saying goodbye. She watched him go.

After Jay’s departure, Iris called Frieda several times. Frieda didn’t pick up, but Iris left voicemails. There were five messages in all, at various hours of the day and night, with the latest one being shortly after midnight. The five messages went like this: furious denunciation, apology of sorts, clipped request for callback, furious denunciation and quick apology, and finally furious denunciation again.

Iris’s apologies to Frieda were not really apologies. She just wanted Frieda to return her call so they could talk. Iris thought that she could work it out with Frieda. But Frieda had evidently decided not to do that.

After Jay had left the office for good, Iris met with an attorney, to whom she handed the blue folder containing her employment agreement with Jay. The attorney looked it over, and turned to the reverse side and saw that it was blank and that there was nothing more to it.

Did you enter into any other agreements with Jay Pospishil? the attorney asked.

Well, no. But there’s this concept he came up with, a business plan. It was about taking my brand—the brand for Broth, my restaurant—and making it mobile. Making people fall in love with it because they can’t find it.

Can’t find it? I don’t understand.

I am not really clear on that either, she said.

Look, this business plan—does it have any of your trade secrets in it? he asked.

To be honest, I’m not actually sure. I haven’t read it. But I’m afraid he’s going to share it with her now.

He probably will, said the attorney, closing the folder with the employment agreement, and sliding it back across the desk to her. But it doesn’t sound like there’s anything you can do to prevent that, or to keep him from working for her.

The attorney then ended the meeting by saying that if she wanted to sue Frieda, she’d have to pay him by the hour and it would be $400 per hour. She thanked him for his time, and picked up the blue folder and moved on.

She returned to the office, not sure where else to go. At Jay’s desk, his screensaver had a quote in French, which Iris did not know how to read. She moved the mouse to deactivate the screensaver, and discovered that he had left an email open. It was from Frieda. This is what it said:

Dear Jay:

Your plan (or is it Plan?) intrigues me. Bring me a full copy of it on your first day, and we can discuss. I will especially want to know what Iris thought of it, and whether you think she will follow it.

Frieda

At reading this, Iris went to her office. She sat down at her desk, opened one of the side drawers, removed the large tape dispenser and stapler from inside, and then pulled out her copy of The Plan.

The Plan was about twenty pages long, typed and single-spaced. A thick, industrial strength staple in its upper-left-hand corner held it together. She sat and looked at the cover for a minute. It had Jay’s name, and it simply read THE PLAN in large letters.

She put it in her bag and went home for the day, not bothering to turn on the office’s answering machine.

CHAPTER THREE

What made things awkward was that Iris’s office was in the same building as Frieda’s. The building had ten floors and there was one elevator. It was inevitable that she would run into Jay, and probably Frieda as well.

The day after Jay quit, when Iris woke up, she was certain that she would not be able to go into the office. She had been up late the previous night, unable to sleep.

She had taken Jay’s document—The Plan—out of her bag. She had held it in her hands several times, and even kept it on her bedside table, but she could not bring herself to open and read it.

In the night, she awoke at some indeterminate hour and winced at remembering how many calls she had placed to Frieda’s office and what she had said. She had made threats, and then wheedling apologies. It took hours for her to get back to sleep.

In her hazy half-dozing thoughts, she could not be certain whether the calls had been real, and over and over, she sat up in starts when it dawned on her that they were.

When she woke again, it was just after five. Her eyes popped open and then she ran from her bed into the bathroom and retched into the toilet, but nothing came out. She knelt there on the bathroom floor, and sat back on her heels, her knees and shins uncomfortable on the tiles.

Jay could have gone to work anywhere. But of all possible employers in the greater Hansa area, he had picked Frieda. Iris retched again. She discovered that there was a spectrum of nausea inside of her, and that when she thought about Jay working for Frieda, her stomach would lurch, but when she thought about something totally unrelated, like ginger snaps or fir trees, she felt only mildly sick, like she might not vomit.

The nausea passed and it occurred to her that she could get up, but she stayed there and took in the discomfort. She did not even move on to the bathmat but remained on the hard surface, and she recognized that this was probably exactly what she needed, both the actual and extreme discomfort of the floor, and the additional discomfort of having her business threatened by Jay’s departure. It made her focus. Animals adapted to discomfort, after all, and it made them stronger and faster and caused them to shed body parts that weren’t doing them any good anymore. Discomfort was good, like in ancient times, when warriors were hard and everybody was fighting the Romans and trying to outdo each other’s discipline.

She had the dead-eyed stare that she sometimes got when she was tired, when her eyes would lock onto things, and she would let them rest there, catatonic, too tired to look around. And before long, her stare fell upon the floor tiles. She blinked. The tiles were beige and white, as they had always been in her bathroom. Everything was just as it had been twenty-four hours earlier. All the articles in the room were the same: the lavender soap; the circular iron ring affixed to the wall as a towel holder designed to look like a ship’s life ring, to match the room’s nautical theme; the hand towels embroidered with tiny green anchors; the dish of potpourri on the edge of the sink. It felt strange to her that while Frieda was poaching Jay, and he was conspiring to leave, and even while he was quitting, this bathroom stood apart, here in her house, away from the office and Jay’s petty nonsense and his quitting and going to work for Frieda. All of the events of the previous twenty-four hours had no impact here in the bathroom. The potpourri remained fragrant and unmolested. The life ring hung. The anchors stayed. The beige prevailed.

She resolved to be unchanged, like the dish of potpourri. To come out of this whole thing smelling like bits of dried orange peel and eucalyptus trimmings. She made up her mind to get in the office early, to show Jay and Frieda that none of their actions had had any effect on her.

Her first step in being like potpourri was to get the awkwardness in the building over with quickly. She purposely got there when she knew that Jay would be arriving, so that they could take the elevator together. That way, there wouldn’t be any avoidance games.

He was a morning person, and that would not change, so he kept the same hours that he had kept when he worked for Iris—in between 8:00 and 8:15, usually out at 5:00. Sure enough, on Thursday morning, after dawdling in the street for a few minutes, she spotted him making for the door, a few minutes after 8:00, the Thursday crossword nearly complete, folded under his arm. He was a fast walker, but she half-jogged and caught up to him, and slipped into the elevator just before its doors closed.

Hellooo, she said to him, in a singsong way, as though he had not quit and nothing had changed.

Hello, he said back, and pushed the button for his new floor, which was seven.

She pushed the button for ten. Settling in okay? she asked.

Yeah, not bad, he said.

What she said next, before he stepped off the elevator, was something she had practiced saying in the mirror in her house about twenty-five times that morning, so it would sound as genuine as possible, while still having the ring of offhandedness.

She looked sideways, not directly into Jay’s eyes, but more at his oversized Adam’s apple, and said: Well, I certainly wish you the best of luck.

Thanks. He did not look at her, and he stepped out of the elevator. The doors closed, and the elevator ascended.

CHAPTER FOUR

Having seen Jay in the elevator, been gracious to him, and not thrown up on him, Iris felt better.

She unlocked the office, came in, and turned on the lights. It was her first full day of working on her own, without Jay—without his ideas and his help, she thought grimly. Then she realized that his attitude and smugness were also gone, and this cheered her.

She had meant to get Jay started on The Plan while he was still working for her. She really had. Even without reading it, she had met with him about it, and they had agreed that it was important and that he should get ready to implement it. Once she had the basic concept, she had even agreed to some tentative dates to get it rolling. Jay hadn’t appeared too disappointed when the dates got moved back in March, and then again in April.

She had hesitated for two reasons. First, Jay was a numbers guy. When he had applied for the job, he had sold himself to her as a business consultant, an accounting wizard who could streamline her supply chain and make Broth’s numbers work in her favor. It was only later that he began to talk about The Plan, thus revealing his philosophical background.

She had also hesitated because Jay was young. He knew she was not reading The Plan, so he had explained it to her, on a few occasions.

The idea seemed like a good one, but he was so young, she thought. The idea needed to be refined. She said she wanted to have some input. The truth was, she had spent these past weeks trying to figure out what to add, but Jay had presented such a complete package, such a well thought-out collection of ideas that she had been unable to think of even a single addition that she could offer. It felt wrong that he was a rookie in this food business, fresh out of school, a kid half her age who had never worked before, in this business or any other. It was not right for him to have such a comprehensive idea. She had been struggling to figure out why he needed her at all.

She had also needed time to get up to speed about what he was even talking about. For someone in her fifties, she considered herself quite cutting-edge. After all, she had had an email account since 2006, and had been doing her spreadsheets on the computer for years.

What Jay was talking about, however, involved things that she had never heard of. She wasn’t sure how to spell some of them, so she had asked him to email them to her. Once she had it from him, she had taken out a pad and written down all of the unfamiliar words and concepts, to look up later. The pad remained in the right-hand drawer of her desk, under a tin in which she kept coins.

She had not managed to look up any of the terms, since they were not in her dictionary and she could not go back to Jay and tell him that she didn’t understand. She had already nodded to him while he was explaining it, and had pretended all along to follow his ideas. If she told him she didn’t get it, he would think she was an old fool. There might even be more concepts that were above her. He might throw up his hands and leave. So she had said nothing and done nothing.

And now he had left Iris’s employ anyway, and had allied himself with her—Frieda, three floors down. Frieda was young, although not as young as Jay. She was in her early forties. The sides of her head were shorn close to her scalp, almost shaved. She was hip and wore headphones on her way to and from her office. Frieda had probably known exactly what Jay was talking about from the moment they began discussing the plan.

Iris was not sure when the two of them had started talking. Iris was not the only food purveyor in the building. Frieda was on the lobby’s directory as well, listed as Filet Catering, just under Arnold Blatt, C.P.A., and above Pauline Idziak, D.D.S.

Perhaps Jay had simply run into Frieda in the elevator one day. No, Iris decided. It was more likely that Frieda had actively pursued Jay, knowing that he worked for Iris, and poached him. After all, Jay sometimes used to wear a golf shirt into work, with Iris’s logo for the restaurant on it, bearing its name BROTH in huge letters. Frieda would have seen it and maybe struck up a conversation with him.

Iris tried hard not to think of the remaining possibility, that it had been Jay who initiated the contact with Frieda. She fought visions of him getting on the elevator one day and disembarking on seven for a secret meeting with Frieda, instead of riding all the way to ten. But this possibility—that Jay had brought The Plan to Frieda on purpose—stayed with her and lingered in her mind as the most likely scenario.

This is it, she thought at last. I need to read this thing. She sat at her desk, and took The Plan out of her bag. She opened it, and finally read it from beginning to end. It felt good to read it. It was less complicated than she had built it up to be, and she was able to understand the unfamiliar terms from context. When she had finished, she went back to page one and read it again.

This Plan was dangerous for her, she now knew. It divided the town up into zones like a battlefield, and Iris had last century’s weapon: a brick-and-mortar place, stuck in a neighborhood that had been up-and-coming but never got as much traffic as she had hoped. It was static, unchanging, and almost dead. No one was talking about her cuisine, and no one would be.

In contrast, Frieda had everything she needed to capitalize on the Plan: a solid brand, the convenience factor of getting food on the go, and above all, it offered a price that everyone in Hansa could handle, from the downtown doctors and lawyers on power lunches down to the college kids, who paid in change. Jay’s ideas would make Frieda a household name. People would go even crazier for Frieda’s cuisine than they already were.

Iris pictured it all—how Broth’s customer base would dry up even more, and how she would lose the lunch crowd as people flocked downtown to get in line for Frieda’s eats. Soon Broth would be closed at lunchtime, and Iris would hope to squeak by with enough happy-hour traffic to fill half her tables at dinner. It would be slow death, with empty tables begetting more empty tables. And before long, the catering calls would cease entirely.

Without Jay and The Plan, Iris was facing the end of her business, and she knew it.

CHAPTER FIVE

It turned out that Iris’s fear was right. Jay had indeed approached Frieda, not the other way around. It had happened in the parking lot of the building, early one morning a week before he ended up quitting. It was before work, when Jay knew that Iris would not be around yet.

Hi, Jay called to Frieda from across the lot. In one hand, he carried his copy of The Plan, a thick, twenty-page document, stapled in one corner.

She was getting out of her car and had her office keys already in hand. At the sound of his voice, she turned and saw him and then looked immediately down at the pavement, as if he were not there. She kept moving.

You’re Frieda Saccardi, right? He was walking his bike over to her.

She did not answer him, but instead quickened her walk to the building. The keys rattled in her hand. He was too far away to get to the door before her.

He thought that the papers were scaring her off, like she thought he might be trying to hand her some Christian literature, so he tucked them behind his back. Listen, I work for Iris, but I’m not happy, he called to her.

At this, Frieda stopped. She turned. Her hand came up and removed her headphones, which he had not even noticed she was wearing.

Okay, she said slowly. So? She kept her sunglasses on, and he could not even tell whether she was looking at him.

Basically, I have this plan that could make her a household name, but she’s too blind to even read it, let alone follow it. So I’m quitting Broth and its catering business.

She was still standing there, slowly winding her headphones into a tight coil in her palm.

You should hire me. The plan could be good for Filet, even if you don’t think you need it. Sure, you’ve conquered Hansa. But don’t you want to be bigger than that?

He waited for her to answer, but she said nothing, so he continued.

I can come aboard as a consultant and give you my plan. If you like it and it works, pay me what you think is fair. But let me tell you—it’s going to work.

As he was talking, he nodded to her, but tried to be subtle about it. This was the Sullivan Nod—nodding at certain times in your pitch to make your quarry choose what you wanted them to choose. Although she seemed impervious to it, she stayed there and listened to him.

You don’t have to say anything for now, he told her. Can I email you my plan? I’ll keep it short—just a synopsis. You can read it, and think about it. We’ll be talking again.

She agreed, and gave him her email address. And then he wrote her.

To: Frieda_eats@filet.com

From: JPos@tmail.com

Date: April 15, 2009

Re: The restaurant is dead.

Frieda,

We cannot survive in this business by continuing to rely on the dining establishment known as the restaurant. True, it dates back centuries, to Monsieur Boulanger and his ilk, but the four-walls-and-a-roof establishment is now a relic, gone the way of acai and molecular gastronomy. It’s become the territory of the gustatory disgrace. The jalapeno popper. The chili cheese fry. The chicken wing, lathered in orange and lukewarm grease, short on spice and indistinct in origin.

The future is elsewhere.

The zeitgeist of this dining century is the Cart.

THIS MONTH

This month you need to buy one food cart. Just one. Approximate cost: $2,000-$3,000. Parking for the cart is available for $275 monthly in a lot four miles from downtown Hansa.

I know you have seen the carts stationed at corners here and there in town, but have you tried any?

Simultaneously, you need to close the restaurant, effective immediately. Next, scale back the catering. Keep it running solely to honor jobs you have already accepted. Accept no new jobs.

MONTH TWO

Move the cart every couple of days, no more than a couple of blocks from the original site. Join social networking sites and fire off anonymous rumors about the secret location of the cart. By making it somewhat scarce (but still findable), create the Cult of your cart.

MONTH THREE

Disappear. Pull the cart off the street and go on vacation for two weeks, somewhere with free wi-fi. Wait.

The next morning, they met again in the parking lot. It was early again, and she called out to Jay as he climbed off his bike.

What are you, a philosophy major or something? she asked.

Why do you ask?

You were, weren’t you? He came closer and she smiled, but he was unable to tell whether she liked his ideas or was irritated. Her smile seemed like

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